A hot favorite in my search for home, a country for me that is of two halves. Either way I accomplished a small dream here and soon wished for more.
Brasov: Situated right under the massive Carpathian Mountains, this is a true medieval Gothic town. Marred terribly by a giant Hollywood style sign on one of the hills with the words BRASOV.
Old Town Square - The true center of town, complete with seating areas, side streets littered with bars, restaurants, stores and the odd market.
Black Church - About as Gothic as you can get. Named after a fire turned the stone black. Make a point to find out when the organ pipe music is on.
Black/White Towers - Down a small alley, and up a steep hill and you will find the old look out towers of the city. Worth it at sunset for the views.
Cable Car- Want to get up close with the giant BRASOV sign, take the cable car up the mountain. Good for a trek too.
Bran - The town that lays claim to Castle Bran, aka Castle Dracula. Possibly the biggest disappointment in Romania for me. The town itself is perched on a hill, and quite nice during a festival.
Castle Bran - The castle is nothing like the photo's you see everywhere. They are all shot at angles you will notice, thus giving the castle a huge look. It's tiny. Large lookout tower I would say. Vlad Tepes, according to the history books, passed by here, and never stayed. I don't blame him either. There was something better down the road. Still, pass through the courtyard of Dracula merchandise and enter to find the real history of the Castle.
Castle Bran gardens - Take a walk around these gardens for more excitement. Around the back they are unkempt and there's a hidden grave yard with stone tombs.
Stone Mountain - Right beside the Castle is a mountain worth the short trek. Spectacular views all around. Barring a farmers rampage should you wander too far.
A short bus ride down the road from Bran is perhaps a better bet where Vlad Tepes might have stayed.
It's also a rather strange alter ego of Brasov. This town also sports a giant white Hollywood style sign on a hill with the words RASNOV. And again, it spoils the view of a truly spectacular castle at the top
.Râşnov Castle - I passed by on a bus to Bran and saw this place and knew right then something was up with the tourist sites in the area. If Vlad stopped off anywhere it would have been this massive crumbling fortress. I wrote about it on a article called Rasnov vs Bran. Take a walk up a steep stony pine tree path and enter a castle with a real skeleton in it's dungeon. Torture equipment, spectacular views, and crumbling walls. They even have an archery range and huge gates. Do not miss this place.
Made famous for being the birthplace of Vlad Tepes. This peace full gothic town is not going to be here much longer. The whole place is being restorable and rumors are abound that a theme park will appear soon.
Vlad's house - Set on top of a hill overlooking the river this is large well renovated castle with superb views of the river bank. Spoilt terribly by having a 5 star hotel slap bang in its center - the future of cultural hotspots?
The towers - There are quite a few towers in this town. All quite a distance away from each other. The Clock tower is in the center and worth the climb. The museums, are okay if you like that sort of thing, and if they are all open.
Town Square- Given some nice weather and Romanian wine this is a nice place to hang out in the evening.
The Scholars’ Stairs - A covered gothic stairwell leading to the aptly named Church on a Hill. Some friendly local dogs might follow you along the trip.
The capital and a far cry from Transylvania. Large, gray and semi destroyed by former dictator Ceausescu's grand soviet style attempts at redesign. I found elements of this city quite bland.
The city's destruction - Yep, take a walk down Nicolae Bălcescu Boulevard and see where the old beautiful buildings were replaced by communist block houses. Palace of the Parliament is one of the largest in the world, but not so inspiring. Look for the fabled memorials of the fallen heroes during the uprising and see passable small tarnished metal plaques in buildings.
Alba Iulia circle- The idea behind New Delhi's Connaght place? Either way it's quite a sight of open space in the city.
The Railway Station - If you want to see something unnerving, come here at night. Outside The can be packed and surrounded by glue sniffing, children and drug addicts. Walking around like zombies. Erie and unnerving.
I took an overnight train from Budapest to Brasov. We stopped at the border and had our passports inspected. The train journey was crowded. But the views of the Carpathian mountains under a full moon were spectacular. Likewise the views during daylight hours to Bucharest.
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I think Romania tops my European food list. A three course meal of Potato soup, a full slab of wild boar and chocolate cake for 5 Euro in Brasov. Couldn't be happier. Everywhere I ate in Romania I enjoyed, bar the Bucharest train station food. And even then, it wasn't too bad. Roasted meats, vegetable casseroles, pastries and cakes. Romania has it all. Though the Yew's cheese I could skip.
Friendly with a bitter sad feel. There was something about Romanians that reminded me of rural Portuguese. A lot of people struggle to get by, but then this happens in a lot of places. The Romanian's seemed to dwell on it a little.
There are many languages in Pakistan. Urdu being one of the most common. Though Farsi seems to be spoken or at least understood in the western parts too. Tough, for me at least.
It's doable. With effort, and the people will help. In the tourist spots everyone speaks English. Indeed the schooling promotes English and its successful bid into the EU means it will continue that way.
Do eat and experiment with all the food on offer. Do take your time there. it may seem like you can fit everything in quickly, but if this sounds like your place, enjoy it before the EU takes over. Be careful in Bucharest, I found parts of it to be rough at night. Do heed the old warnings about the wild dogs in Bucharest at night. I ran into them. Anyone telling you they are gone, has not been around the side streets at night.
Finding a cheap hostel or hotel in Romania is easy. Finding the right one is hard. Finding one that has a single room is even harder. There is a shortage.
Where to stay
Brasov - Let me just say that you should be careful of the hostels here. The two I found were rundown and out of town a bit. They were also full of late night party goers. I left and headed for the center and found a guest house with a private room for the same price as a dorm. There are plenty around, just ask some locals.
Sighisoara- there are about three to choose from along the road by the train station. One sterile. One Party. And one run by a Hungarian family with a nice vinery.
Bucharest- I was there during some soccer game and everything was booked out. Very hard to find a good place. Most hostels were around 15 Euro a night. Villa 11 is a nice quiet place near the train station its about 20 Euro a night, good for early morning trains.
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Of all the recent autonomous zoned areas in countries around the world looking to be come independent nations, I wish Transylvania would do the same. An incredible place that I really liked. The rest of the southern part of the country appealed less. Unemployment is high, and the people a little depressing. So it gets a no.
How much is a daily budget?
Romania was surprisingly cheap. Accommodation is currently around 14 euro per night for a dorm. For a private room around 25 Euro
Food is also quite cheap here, and very good. A sandwich can be bought for about 2-3 Euro and a restaurant meal can be had for 6 Euro.
An average day was with local transport could be about 20-25 Euro. Entrance fees add to that. But put in some free trekking around the Carpathian's and find free days at the museums and it gets better again.
Do wild dogs at night exist in Bucharest?
I am the last one to say that I believe everything in a Lonely Planet book. The forums on the internet said no they were gone, the book said they were there. One night at 11pm after getting my train ticket two of us took a lane way back to a hostel and were soon surrounded by a pack of snarling wild dogs.
Our cheap railway sandwiches helped out as a distraction. It was not nice, they do exist, and they do growl and snarl loudly. They are also in the mountains if you go trekking. Picking up a few stones and a stick is often a good method to scare them off during the daylight.
Update: A Romanian woman was killed in 2011 due a wild dog attack in Bucharest according to a BBC report. Take heed and do not walk down empty streets in the capital at night.
Where can I go trekking in Romania?
The Carpathian's offer some of the greatest vistas in the world. Retezat is high altitude and barren with barren mountain tops with lakes in the southern part. The lower you go the greener and more forested things get in the Apuseni region. Here in the west Padis will have to be noted as being one of the best areas for trekking. You can buy food and water in nearly every town and village en route. Buy trekking maps and find a good base to leave all your stuff and head out for day trips to make the most of it.
Money in Bucharest, what to do?
International Credit cards like VISA or MasterCard work everywhere as do most debit cards. You get your Romanian Lei in return. There are also plenty of Money changers.
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